By John Norton
Pharmacists are under-appreciated, judging by the design of many public and private sector prescription drug plans. These guidelines determine pharmacies’ compensation for their services and govern how they interact with patients, doctors and the plan administrators—pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). As the representative for approximately 23,000 independent community pharmacies, the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) works to raise awareness that pharmacists are much more than simply dispensers of prescription drugs.
While NCPA is committed to that end, in many respects independent community pharmacists are their own best advocates. Often they have compelling stories to tell that illustrate their expertise, ingenuity, compassion and work ethic.
For example, Beverly Schaefer, RPh, co-owner of Katterman’s Sand Point Pharmacy in Seattle, Washington, sent us this dispatch:
“I find the value of being a community pharmacist not in the big dramatic things that happen in a pharmacy, but the millions of routine things we do every day to benefit our communities. For example, on April 19th—a modest business day in my pharmacy, in a three hour stretch from 9:00 am to noon—I attempted to tally the routine matters I encounter daily that are outside of dispensing.
“I made a recommendation for dressing a hand wound that was healing poorly. I offered another recommendation for neck pain. I provided an additional recommendation for the stomach flu. I found time to administer the Hepatitis A vaccine and two shingles vaccines. Then I counseled a mother who has a child with a traumatic brain injury on a new medication regimen, who wasn’t even my customer!! I demonstrated my public health capabilities when I recommended and administered a TDaP vaccine to someone who was getting ready to be a new grandparent. I counseled a mom with a child with an earache. I was proud to make both a monetary and auction donation to a fundraiser for a local business owner with kidney cancer. I called six other pharmacies to find a drug in stock that was needed immediately by my patient and then sent that same patient to the pharmacy in question, Additionally, I fitted an ankle brace for a sprained ankle; made recommendations for travel medications and administered travel vaccines; consoled a customer about a catastrophic diagnosis and gave them my cell phone number if they wanted to talk further; inquired about the mental health of a family that had just lost a child and offered hugs; and I accomplished all that while filling 98 prescriptions and supervising a staff of 12 people.
“To be candid in my line of work there was nothing that remarkable about what did, because it comes with the territory. You have to multi-task, but your reward is that you are making a difference and creating customer loyalty, because they know by your actions how much you care. People trust pharmacists and know they will benefit from seeking help in a pharmacy. It may be recommendation of a product to feel better; it may be seeking ways to stay well; or it may be the advice or assurance from a pharmacist that helps them feel better. Taken together these mostly unrelated small acts make a big difference. Accessibility of a trained health care professional happens only in pharmacies in what amount to being a community safety net. While I wouldn’t pretend to be a doctor, it is always easier to simply swing by my pharmacy for help than to call up and get an appointment with your doctor. Pharmacists take pride in helping people, and while my patients know this, I wonder if the decisions-makers truly grasp this dynamic?”